I saw This is the End on the weekend, and found it mostly enjoyable. The actors all do great send ups of themselves, though according to IMDB they wrote each character in such a fashion that they’re playing complete opposites to their real personalities. I don’t know, all I saw was a bunch of people acting in ways that they’re kind of type-cast (Seth Rogan playing the same character he’s played in every movie he’s been in, James Franco basically reprising Pineapple Express, Danny McBride being essentially a real life Kenny Powers). Michael Cera playing a goofy wasted dork, hitting whatever drugs he could get and awkwardly hitting on women actually did fit my idea of what he’d be like, but apparently that’s not him. Whatever.
Most of it was pretty funny, but there are a few rape jokes in there, one that worked, but still made me feel awkward about it, one that kinda worked on a meta level, but didn’t in other ways, one that only worked as a running gag, and then two that I don’t think worked at all except to dehumanize both the tellers and the victims. I’m going to talk about them, so be warned that you should only click past the break if you’ve seen the movie, don’t plan to see it at all, or might still see it but want to read it anyway (in which case you can’t blame me for ruining jokes and plot points).
First, I want to discuss the jokes that didn’t work. Toward the end, once everyone realises that the whole thing is actually the biblical end of times, and that all the good people have been raptured to Heaven, the characters start to figure out that they’ve done some bad things. James Franco talks about how he had sex with Lindsay Lohan one night while she was wasted out of her brain, because she thought that he was Jake Gyllenhaal. You can see that this is something he is meant to feel shameful about, but he never actually says that he raped her (which of course it is, if it’s under false pretenses and she isn’t in a state of mind to give actual informed consent). He knows it was wrong, but doesn’t exonerate him.
I would argue though that this is the bad kind of rape joke, where the victim is the butt of the joke. Lindsay Lohan is, of course, a popular target these days since she has had a pretty public meltdown, with substance abuse and legal issues in the tabloids pretty much weekly. Instead of using a nameless woman for the bit the writers (or possibly the actors themselves since half the movie was apparently ad libbed) named someone who audiences would have a laugh at. Franco wouldn’t have been to blame, the typical viewer would thing, since if she wasn’t drunk or whatever she would have realised he wasn’t Gyllenhaal!
Of course Franco gets his just desserts, but not until after he stands a good chance of going to heaven. I guess saving your friends after confessing the time you raped a girl is ok in God’s book, but being vain about it isn’t.
Also not working is McBride showing up at the end as the leader of the cannibals, with Channing Tatum as a gimp on his chain. He talks about having sex with him, and it is not implied that they have a normal BDSM relationship. In the situation it could be assumed that Tatum is being assaulted by McBride in his dominant role.
Jonah Hill is asleep, and then we see a demonic shadow with a massive cock creeping up on him while he dreams. At first he starts muttering about the sex scene he’s dreaming about, but then he wakes up, looks into the demon’s eyes and says “This is not a dream, this is really happening!”. Next, a distraught Hill is talking into the confession cam about the events of the previous night.
As a standalone gag, this doesn’t really work. Male rape is a thing, and the only part of the joke on its own that does work is the fact that Hill doesn’t tell anyone else about what happened (much like the actual reporting rate). As meta-humour though, it works, as the whole bit is a reference to the famous rape scene in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Given the target audience for this movie, I would be surprised if more than a couple in every audience actually picked that up though.
Then we’ve got the ‘titty fucking’ running gag. Seth Rogan tells the others about how he was bullied as a kid, and because he was chubby his bullies would get on top of him and titty fuck him. At the start, yeah, this is played off for laughs, finding humour with Rogan as a victim. As the movie goes on though, it becomes a little bit of a running gag with the characters afraid of being titty fucked, at a time when there are demons crawling the earth and giant pits swallowing people up.
This plays off society’s rape culture where women actually do have to worry about being raped even in situations where it would be ‘unlikely’. Goofy gag? Yeah. But it does lead into the main joke in the film that is getting publicity, that by itself is a big breakdown of rape culture.
Emma Watson turns up at the house, brandishing an axe, and is incredibly glad to see other people who are alive. Franco offers her the use of his bed to get some rest, and the gang stand outside the room talking about how good it is that she’s alive, with McBride letting on that he is a huge Harry Potter fan and would love to take the chance to discuss the films with her.
Then Jay Baruchel brings up the typical post-apocalyptic trope. She is stuck in a building with six males. Being a ‘nice guy’ he wants to make sure she’s not intimidated by the six of them. The others wonder what he means until McBride brings up that they would give off a “rapey vibe”. Then, because no male wants to admit that they are potentially a rapist themselves, they start arguing about who would rape Watson if it came to that.
At this point, no one has actually said that it’s going to happen. However Watson walks out of the room with her axe, starts swinging it around, takes their supplies, and goes off to find shelter that should actually be safe. And who would blame her? It’s been foreshadowed before that point that the architecture of the house means that you can hear everything someone is saying. And if the guys weren’t already being intimidating before, they were as soon as they all started talking outside the room about her. Who wouldn’t want to take their chances outside in that situation?
I was a bit uncomfortable when I saw this part. I mean, rape jokes are a big no-no because so many comedians fail at telling them. And this was a joke where they actually said the word rape.
I thought about it a lot after, and then figured that no, they aren’t victim blaming. They aren’t talking about actually raping anyone. They are talking about the very real issue of women being uncomfortable around men because of society’s culture. It’s the breakdown of society, this should be a real concern. It’s not a joke about rape; it’s a joke about rape culture.
I think the thing that made me most uncomfortable about it was less joking about rape, and more joking about how men are rapists. As a man I actually worry about the issue of consent. And here is a film bringing that issue into the forefront and pointing the finger at culture.
I would have been nice to have seen Emma later in the film though, to see how she got on. Apparently she was brought back for the cannibal scene, but was offended by Channing Tatum in a thong, so decided not to go on with the scene (which is another issue that I’m going to leave for others to discuss). But it would have been nice to see her in Heaven at least, and maybe have the whole misunderstanding cleared up. But hey, not every plot point gets cleared up.
Am I wrong about things? Am I reading into things too much? Am I right? I don’t know. What do you think?